Red List of South African Species

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Endangered (EN)


The regional population of Pel's Fishing Owl Scotopelia peli is estimated at 70-100 mature individuals, qualifying it as regionally Endangered under criterion D1.


The species is considered uncommon but widespread along tropical rivers and other suitable habitat elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa (Fry et al. 1988). Within the region, Pel's Fishing Owl has been found in the north-east of South Africa on the Limpopo, Luvuvhu, Olifants, Sabie and Crocodile rivers in the Lowveld of Limpopo and Mpumalanga as well as on the Pongolo, Mkuze, Mfolozi and uMlalazi rivers, Lake St Lucia and at a number of larger pans in Kwa­Zulu-Natal (Mendelsohn 1997). Although there are records of vagrant birds from as far south as Cape Town, there are currently no known populations of this species south of Mtunzini (Mendelsohn 1997). In Swaziland, it was formerly a breeding resident in the Umbuluzi Gorge, and possibly in other river gorges in the Lebombo Mountains, but there have been no confirmed records since the 1984 floods caused by Cyclone Demoina removed all suitable riparian habitat (Parker 1994).


The global population has not been quantified (BirdLife International 2014). Mendelsohn (1997) estimated there to be less than 500 pairs in southern Africa, including the stronghold in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Within the region, Brooke (1984) speculated that there may be less than 60 mature individuals in South Africa. Barnes and Parker (2000) modified this estimate to 120-150 mature individuals, of which the majority (c. 60 mature individuals) were within Kruger National Park. Outside of the park, another 10 individuals were thought to occur on the Limpopo River, west of the park boundary, and isolated pairs occurred in the Soutpansberg and Blyde River systems (Barnes and Tarboton 1998). The only recent surveys in Mpumalanga and Limpopo were conducted along two major river systems in Kruger National Park, the Luvuvhu and Olifants (Botha 2010), which documented an estimated 15-25 breeding pairs in the park. Since 2009, additional surveys were conducted on the Olifants River for 50 km to the west of the Kruger National Park, where a further 5-7 breeding pairs were found (Botha 2010). Several resident pairs are also known from along the Limpopo River (AJ Botha unpubl. data). Cyrus (1998) estimated there to be less than 60 mature individuals in KwaZulu-Natal. Although regular sightings are reported from sites in northern KwaZulu-Natal, a reliable estimate of the population in that area is not available at present. The regional population is estimated to be c. 70-100 mature individuals. Due to difficulty in obtaining accurate population estimates of this elusive species, confidence in this estimate is low.

Population trend

The global population is suspected to be stable in the absence of evidence of any declines or substantial threats (BirdLife International 2014). The regional population is thought to be in decline, although difficulties in estimating a regional population have hampered attempts to obtain an accurate rate of decline. The regional population is conservatively estimated to be undergoing a continuous population decline of greater than 20% over the past three generations. Confidence in this trend estimate is low.


The most significant threat to the species is loss of suitable habitat due to a decline in the quality and quantity of water in rivers and other waterbodies (Barnes and Parker 2000). This may be a result of water extraction and pollution, due to such activities as water provision to urban settlements, agricultural, industrial and mining activities, and the construction of impoundments within catchments. The species is particularly sensitive to clearing and disturbance of tall riparian fringes (Mendelsohn 1997). Although the effects of global climate change are difficult to predict, extensive flooding from increased rainfall may destroy riparian vegetation along rivers and make certain areas unsuitable for the species. Similarly, severe drought conditions within the species' range could also significantly reduce the extent of available habitat.



The Birds of Prey Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust conducts annual surveys of the population of this species along two of the major river systems in Kruger National Park, and has registered a long-term monitoring project with SANParks in this regard (Botha 2010). Surveys of the Olifants River have been expanded westwards beyond the borders of Kruger National Park, with the support of private land-owners. The Birds of Prey Programme endeavours to create greater awareness of the impact of human activities on the habitat and population of this species and actively engages with stakeholders within the catchments of river systems that could have an impact on water quality and quantity, and riparian habitats. The species is listed under Schedule 2: Specially Protected Wild Animal under the Limpopo Environmental Management Act No 7 of 2003.


A Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA) is recommended, as is a Biodiversity Management Plan, culminating in a National Species Recovery Plan. Conservation interventions required include adequate enforcement of protection of known breeding sites. Regular monitoring of Pel's Fishing Owl populations in northern KwaZulu-Natal is required to accurately determine the regional population and true conservation status of the species. Implementation of an awareness programme throughout the species' range, involving all stakeholders and highlighting threats, is necessary. Appropriate management of catchment areas upstream of protected areas that support this species is essential (Barnes and Parker 2000). Potential impacts should be considered during assessment of development applications in catchments where this species occurs.


* Annual surveys of populations in Kruger National Park and adjacent river systems should be continued to monitor population trends.

* The influence that season has on territory occupation, within the major river systems, needs to be investigated.

* An accurate estimate of the KwaZulu-Natal population is required.

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